En­voy: Iraq re­build will take more time

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By David R. Sands

Iraq’s U.S. am­bas­sador said May 6 that his coun­try still needs time be­fore it can fully fi­nance its own re­con­struc­tion ef­fort, de­spite an oil-ex­port wind­fall that has law­mak­ers on Capi­tol Hill de­mand­ing Bagh­dad pick up more of the tab.

Am­bas­sador Samir Su­maida’ie put the cost just of re­build­ing his coun­try’s shat­tered ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture in the hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars, ar­gu­ing that U.S. crit­ics should not at­tack his coun­try’s bud­get choices in a “pop­ulist man­ner.”

“We are will­ing to pay more and more and, ul­ti­mately, to pay all our re­con­struc­tion costs,” Mr. Su­maida’ie told re­porters and edi­tors at The Wash­ing­ton Times. “We are not shy­ing away from our re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

The fund­ing is­sue has come to the fore as Congress takes up Pres­i­dent Bush’s latest spend­ing bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With Bagh­dad pro­jected to run up a mas­sive bud­get sur­plus this year, thanks to $70 bil­lion in oil rev­enues, con­gres­sional Democrats have sharply ques­tioned the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quest for some $3 bil­lion in re­con­struc­tion, train­ing and equip­ment funds for Iraq.

Bills now un­der con­sid­er­a­tion in both the House and Se­nate would put new con­di­tions on U.S. re­con­struc­tion aid in light of the sur­plus.

The Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee ap­proved a mea­sure two weeks ago that would pro­hibit the Pen­tagon from fund­ing any Iraqi re­con­struc­tion project cost­ing more than $2 mil­lion. The bill would also re­quire Iraq’s gov­ern­ment to pay the salaries and train­ing costs of Sunni mili­tias that have been funded by the U.S. mil­i­tary af­ter they turned on al Qaeda and other ex­trem­ists groups.

“It is un­ac­cept­able that U.S. tax­pay­ers con­tinue to bear a bur­den that the Iraqi gov­ern­ment can and should as­sume,” said com­mit­tee chair­man Sen. Carl Levin, Michi­gan Demo­crat.

House Democrats have drafted a sep­a­rate fund­ing bill that would pro­hibit U.S. aid for re­build­ing towns or equip­ping Iraqi troops un­less the Iraqi gov­ern­ment matched ev­ery dol­lar, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported May 6.

While push­ing hard for the over­all fund­ing bill, the ad­min­is­tra­tion al­ready has beat a strate­gic re­treat on some of the is­sues.

The Pen­tagon two weeks ago deleted a $171 mil­lion re­quest to help pay for new po­lice sta­tions in Iraq.

“I heard the com­mit­tee loud and clear on the need for Iraq to pay for eco­nomic and civil­ian in­fra­struc­ture,” De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said in a let­ter to Mr. Levin.

But Mr. Su­maida’ie said even with the oil prof­its, Iraq faces fi­nanc­ing, lo­gis­ti­cal and se­cu­rity prob­lems just in restor­ing health, san­i­ta­tion and ba­sic util­ity ser­vices that “col­lapsed” un­der Sad­damHus­seinandthechaotic­post­war pe­riod.

“Iraq is a com­pletely shat­tered coun­try,” he said. A po­lit­i­cal ex­ile from his home­land for more than two decades, Mr. Su­maida’ie said, “I did not even rec­og­nize Bagh­dad, the city where I was born, when I re­turned.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

A town in ashes: A youth wears a pro­tec­tive mask as he rides his bike in a street cov­ered in ashes com­ing from Chile's Chaiten vol­cano in Esquel, Ar­gentina May 7. Chile's long-dor­mant Chaiten vol­cano poured out gas and ash for a sixth straight day.

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